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tv   Meet the Presss Press Pass  NBC  October 28, 2012 11:30am-11:45am EDT

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i'm david gregory and this is "press pass" an all-access pass to an extra "meet the press" conversation. this week, a spotlight on the issue of foreign policy in the campaign. i'm joined by two long-time military correspondents who have each written fascinating new books on the topic, tom ricks, former "washington post" reporter and author of "the generals, american military command from world war ii to today" and michael gordon from the "new york times" here with "the end game, the inside story of the struggle for iraq from george w. bush to barack obama." welcome to both of you. great to be able to talk to both of you here. the close of this campaign. it is very interesting to hear both president obama and mitt romney look in their rearview mirror about the last decade in foreign policy and national
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security policy and the president saying, look, i ended the war in iraq, we are on a glide path out of afghanistan. and yet we know the threat from both of these countries still remains and there's a lot of unfinished business. michael, you get to a lot of that of course in your book, in iraq. the idea that we're done. put it in the rear view mir but there's a lot of unfinished business. >> yeah. one thing that's striking to me is just really the gap between the campaign rhetoric and what the obama administration's actual policy was in iraq because you have to ask yourself the question, what does it mean to end a war? and it's lot more than simply removing troops and actually, when president obama approached iraq, he, himself, and his team, thought it entailed a lot more than removing troops them tried create a power-sharing arrangement in iraq. tried to negotiate a sofa which initially -- >> status of forces agreement of when to remove troops. >> would have allowed initially as many as 10,000 american troops to stay and they also
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tried to work out an arrangement where there would be a fairly substantial civilian/american footprint to maintain our influence there and none of those things really happened. what happened is the troops left. >> tom, on afghanistan as well, the idea of when troops come out there's agreement about 2014 but i think what michael's speaking to the idea that troops coming home doesn't mean that the issues are settled and there's war weariness in america but what it's level of responsibility that the united states feels should any of these things go south, in terms of what we've tried to create in terms of stable governments? >> i think what you saw in the debates that was governor romney and president obama both understand the american people are sick and tired of these wars. they are sorry they ever heard of the place called the middle east. they just want out. and so the question is how do you, to the degree you can, shape the environment after you get out? and i think that's what all of this talk about 2014 in afghanistan is, to focus the minds of afghan leaders. we are not going to be around.
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and i actually think iraq has gone better than i expected. so, who knows. afghanistan might too. i'm actually though in the long run, more pessimistic about afghanistan than i am about iraq. >> start by why do you think iraq has gone better than expected and then michael will talk about where you think there's gaps in this path's approach to t. >> i thought that iraq would unravel after the americans left. in fact, aid series on my blog called "iraq, the unraveling." it hasn't. rather it has sort of come to a stalemate it is not falling apart but not making any political progress it is just sort of sitting there, not a great situation but actually better than i personally expected when i last took a long look at iraq. what people forget in this country though is iraq, even right now, is still more violent than afghanistan is. >> well, i actually think the search was considerable success in a military sense.
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and so i think that the worst case in iraq certainly has not happened. we don't have a civil war. we don't have anything of the kind. but it's problematic outcome from an american stan standpoint, for a variety of reasons. for example, without any american forces, even a paltry force in iraq now, iraq's skies are wide open and so what they've become is basically a channel for the iranians to ship hundreds of tons of military aid to bash shard al assad's regime in syria, which goes against american policy and also with no air cover of any kind, no american planes there to assert air sovereignty it is also an open corridor for the israelis should they ever want to attack the nuclear installations in iran which is something the obama administration itself is trying to discourage. another factor is al qaeda in iraq is not a threat to the american homeland but it's become more active in iraq and it's become more of a factor in
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syria which is also something that runs counter to american policy. so i think given the considerable sacrifice the united states made in iraq it is uortunate the strategic outcome is not more consonant with american interest. >> the middle east is a safer place with sd saddam hussein off the table. do you think that's true? >> i think, people ask me all the time, it was worth it? the way i -- the way i, in my own head, have tried to resolve that question is it depends what iraq backs over tecomes the nexd that depends to a considerable extent, on what american influence can be brought to bear on the situation and there's been a decline in influence. and one point, by the way, on afghanistan, i don't think we should give every governor romney or vice president biden kind of a free pass on the claim that we are out of there in 2014 because that, in fact is not the
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plan that they are developing in nato now. the plan is to maintain a kind of enduring force, which is going to involve an american counterterrorism force, which will go after the al qaeda. it's going to involve nato advisers, some of whom will have to operate on the tactical level with the afghan troops. if you actually look at the planning, the last american to die in afghanistan will not have died in 2014. they are still going to be fighting an american involvement after that day. >> i also want to say, i can say since i'm no longer in a newspaper and i write an opinionated blog, no, iraq was not worth t. >> why? >> absolutely not. we went to war on false premises. we wasted billions and billions of dollars. enormous amounts. and it's hard to see how the situation has radically improved. we play is a new axis of evil emerging, syria/iraq/pakistan. >> this was an intervention built to create something far
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more tilted in the direction of western interests? >> it was supposed to establish a pro-american beacon of democrat say that would transform the middle east. in fact, it is emerging as one of the biggest long-term problems in the middle east that our years, our decade, near decade of dpigt not resolve. >> michael, you're critical of president obama's lack of engagement with an end game for iraq that maybe exacerbates this threat, are you not? >> to be fair, i'm sort of an equal opportunity critic and what president obama inherited was a complicated situation. by no means an easy situation in iraq politically. but there were opportunities, i think, to shape iraq and to be more involved in iraq and if you just look at the sofa negotiations to keep american troops there, which the pog and the state department both believe would be desirable and presume blitz white house itself thought it might be, too or they wouldn't have initiated those talks, i mean, the obama administration clearly didn't
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learn the less son was,conduct those negotiations from its predecessor because president bush did negotiate a sofa but it was enormously difficult vend time consuming and took lots of involvement at the presidential level and we didn't really see that in the obama administration. >> one of the things, tom, that you write about that's central theme of the book is american military leadership that has been both tested and shaped in a lot of ways over this past decade. you are not enormously confident as you come away from that decade. why? >> the theme of the book is that american generalship was better this world war ii than it has been lately, especially if vietnam, iraq and afghanistan. and what you see is, in world war ii successful generals were promoted. jones who failed were fired. and the military adapted very quickly. young people, whose names we still remember, eisenhower, ridgeway, gaffe opinion, those generals moved up very quickly.
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what we've had lately is being a general in the united states military is kind of like having tenure at a university. the only way they can fire and sort of have a moral lapse, a zipper problem, that embarrasses the institution. but professional competence, not a problem. they will take anybody. you know? you don't get judged on combat effectiveness anymore. and petraeus is the obvious exception of kind of proves the rule a general comes in with a different approach in iraq and as michael says, does much better. it shouldn't have taken that long. we fought in iraq longer than we fought in world war ii before we started becoming combat effective on the ground. it shocks me that here we are, at the end of two long wars and i see no great impulse in the u.s. military to soberly and seriously reflect on those lessons. >> we will take a break here and be back with more from tom ricks
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and michael gordon talking about wars and america's national security policy in the future.
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and we are back with journalist tom ricks and michael gordon. one of the questions i heard raised this week which i think is so interesting, talking about national security policy moving forward, are we going to reach a point of a kind of reset where we figure out some middle ground between a commitment of american ground forces to war and sitting on the sidelines? and if you take a conflict like
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syria, we seem to be on tpting the latter because our leadership can't figure out what does all-in mean? we want to own it or lead from behind, which is it? do we have anything approaching some consensus about what a reset looks like? >> well, i don't think there's a consensus in the united states or even between -- despite the closure somewhat between the two candidates' positions, between governor romney and president obama, but apropos syria, the real decision, it seems to me, for the united states is not whether to intervene directly militarily but come up with a bosnia-type solution, to a certain extent, find some groups that it might find responsible enough that it could arm them and work with them in some capacity if we are not going to fight, maybe help them do their fight. i think that's really the key policy decision but seems like the obama administration has come to a view that there are such people or if there
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